When I was a kid, there was a bus in my neighbourhood of Montreal called the 201. You could be at a bus stop for two hours, and that bus wouldn’t come. I decided one day that I wasn’t going to wait for it. I would just start walking to wherever I needed to go, and if the bus came along while I was walking, I’d try to hope on. On a handful of occasions, the bus zoomed past me along the way, but most of the time, I arrived at my destination before ever catching sight of that bus. That’s pretty much what I did with my writing career back in early 2014.
For 25 years, I didn’t do anything with my writing beyond sharing it with a very small number of people, with the exception of two submissions: one to Asimov magazine (rejected), and one to an anthology (rejected). After two medical events, I returned to writing to cleanse my soul and mind of all the emotion I had in it, and it took the form of a memoir. When that was nearly ready to send off, I decided to put it aside. I didn’t want to introduce myself to the world as “that guy.” Everything in it would be part of my story, part of me, but I didn’t want it to be who I was in print.
I could have taken the route taken by a lot of people. I could have started sending out query letters, and tried to get an agent. Then tried to get a publishing deal (which includes a strange limbo of agreement but not taking any action. Then we’d go through the whole process involving editing, and then I’d have to wait for when my book aligned with the seasonal catalogue (I’ve had a few friends bumped from spring to autumn, or vice versa. Never pulled forward).
If I was lucky, and everything happened at break neck speeds, I figured it would be 18 months before I would see my books in the hands of actual readers. That’s if everything went well. Several months ago I watched a friend who had got an agent, who had a publisher deal, whose book came out, fall flat. Her publisher didn’t just drop the ball, they pulled their support entirely from the launch to put the focus somewhere else. My friend now had a book that she’d have to start the process of getting the rights back to, but that had technically been published, so the “first publishing rights” were consumed. Two years, and she’s worse off than if she’d done anything herself. I wasn’t going to wait and hope, I was going to start walking on my own.
Much like I did when I was a kid with the 201, I would keep my eyes out for an opportunity to get to my destination faster and in the meanwhile, I’d just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Now as my sixth novel is about to be released, I look at everything I’ve done so far and think wow. I have an audience, I have readers, I have a newsletter that just had its highest open rate ever (over 50%).
There are some indies who look at traditional publishing with scorn, while others looking at it like the house they want to get in, as if they were standing out in the cold and it was winter. For myself, I see them as an opportunity to take any of the series I have created to a new, and bigger, audience. Whether that’s taking The Yellow Hoods, for example, or buying a sequel series that’s set in the same world. Do I need them? No. Am I open to them? Yes. I think of myself as having a set of incubating startups (The Yellow Hoods, The Wizard Killer, etc.) and if there’s an opportunity to have them acquired, then I’ll look at it and potentially do that deal.
Of course, doing it this way is an incredible amount of work, and sometimes very stressful. You’ve got content risk, capital risk, never mind trying to stay relevant and present in the minds of your readers. But if nothing else, if absolutely nothing else, I feel I understand on a completely different level what to expect from an agent and publisher. On top of that, I’ve met people along the way and become part of a community. On a regular basis we trade ideas and lessons learned, hoping to some how figure it out for ourselves and others.
I believe that what I’ve done has only increased my potential value to an agent and publisher. Having a platform and following, being able to demonstrate that I can write series and deliver on them, and being able to have a “guaranteed initial sales” number that is several times that of “immediate friends and family”… it all adds up to a lower level of risk for them, and a starting point rather than starting at zero.
To those that follow the traditional path, hats off to you. Maybe it’s just something in my character that won’t let me stand still. Maybe it’s the fraud complex that felt I wasn’t worthy and hoped I would fail that started me down this path, only now for it to learn that it sent me off the cliff and I’ve learned I can fly. Or maybe, just maybe, this is about a little boy who learned that stand in the same place, in the winter, waiting for a bus that probably wasn’t coming, wasn’t the best place to catch the bus.